Treating lupus: care, consideration and a complex disease

Lupus takes its name from the Latin word meaning ‘wolf.’ In the 18th century, before lupus was recognized as a chronic autoimmune disease, it was thought to be caused by the bite of a wolf, in large part due to the bite-like imprints that remained on one’s body as a result of severe skin rashes. Despite remarkable clinical and research advances made in the field of lupus, we still have no cure, and the cause of the disease remains unknown. The community of patients and family members with lupus is analogous in many ways to the behaviour of wolf families, with loyalty and commitment to the cause that binds people together to overcome lupus’ debilitating effects. At UHN we are fortunate to be part of the family of care for lupus patients as shown by the story of Christina Girgenti, who was diagnosed with lupus at the age of 21.

Twelve years ago, Christina and her mother arrived at Toronto Western Hospital’s Lupus Clinic.

“I had been experiencing symptoms of stiffening and swelling of the joints, fatigue and fever, on and off for several years,” recalls Christina. “My family doctor made the decision to refer me to the Lupus Clinic with the suspicion that my symptoms could be related to something more serious.”

Lupus has been called the ‘The Great Imitator’ or ‘The Disease of a 1000 Faces’ because its symptoms can mimic other, more common diseases and syndromes. Due to the wide range of symptoms and physiological systems affected, the disease has challenged physicians for decades. Although it can occur in both men and women, 90% of individuals diagnosed with lupus are female, with those of child- bearing age (14 to 45 years old) most often afflicted.

“When Christina first arrived, we ran blood and urine tests,” explains Dr. Murray Urowitz, Director of the Lupus Clinic. Established in 1970, the Lupus Clinic has one of the largest patient databases in the world, with more than 1,800 patients and over 38,000 clinic visits.

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